German Researchers Claim Death by Marijuana

The small German study is getting flack from both marijuana proponents and the medical community.


Marijuana image via shutterstock

Thousands of studies come out every year. Some are published in respected medical journals, and others, not so much. In the end, we have to take every single study we read with a grain of salt because sometimes all of the studies contradict each other. One day coffee is bad for you, and the next day it’s improving your liver. One day we shouldn’t drink any alcohol, and the next day we read that wine has anti-aging properties. But, a new study published by German researchers (click here for the abstract, and here for the full study) in the journal, Forensic Science International, claims that weed kills.

Marijuana has always been the “red headed stepchild” of the drug world. And for once, that tired cliché can be used in a good way. The drug wants to be the odd man out because it’s always been seen as the most gentle of the illegal bunch. It isn’t as toxic as heroin, less potent than cocaine, and less brain-altering than acid. It’s the mellow drug that makes you smile, laugh, and pig out. It’s associated with peace and community. It’s natural. It’s grows from the ground, man. It’s non-addictive (jury’s still out on that one), and most importantly, it’s never, ever been associated with death. That is, until now.

The study claims that the sticky icky can kill you:

“The acute toxicity of cannabinoids is said to be low and there is little public awareness of the potentially hazardous cardiovascular effects of cannabis, e.g. marked increase in heart rate or supine blood pressure. We describe the cases of two young, putative healthy men who died unexpectedly under the acute influence of cannabinoids. To our knowledge, these are the first cases of suspected fatal cannabis intoxications where full postmortem investigations, including autopsy, toxicological, histological, immunohistochemical and genetical examinations, were carried out. The results of these examinations are presented. After exclusion of other causes of death we assume that the young men experienced fatal cardiovascular complications evoked by smoking cannabis.”

Here in Massachusetts, where possession of less than one ounce is decriminalized, and medical marijuana clinics are set to open this summer, this news is surprising. If we take the German researcher’s word for it, then the properties in marijuana caused cardiac complications that resulted in death. But marijuana proponents are saying that this study is based on nothing. The post-mortem examinations were conducted on only 15 people whose deaths were linked to the drug. 

Researchers say that they believe two of those deaths could not have been caused by anything other than cannabis. But according to an English language German paper called The Local, the German Association for Drugs and Addiction (FDR) says, “Cannabis does not paralyze the breathing or the heart,” and that, “deaths due to cannabis use are usually accidents that are not caused by the substance, but to the circumstances of use.”

According to the study, one of the men who died was an athletic 28-year-old found dead by his girlfriend next to an ashtray containing cigarette paper and marijuana. The autopsy found that there were no pre-existing medical conditions. The second case was a “healthy” 23-year-old man.

According to The Local:

Benno Hartung from the University Hospital in Düsseldorf said he and his colleagues performed autopsies and toxicological tests to rule out other causes of death such as liver disease and alcohol use.

Hartung claims that the two deaths from cardiac arrhythmia were directly the results of cannabis use, with marijuana apparently causing a sudden change in heartbeat. “Even though it may be rare, I hope others investigate death by cannabis intoxication in other cities. Particularly in light of the increased use of cannabis for pain relief,” he said.